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What a Cup of Coffee Taught Me About My Doctor's Strength

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I still remember it as if it was yesterday.

We were standing in the hallway. He on one end and I nearing the other. I turned to wave goodbye and then he offered a memorable farewell.

“I don’t want to see you again! I mean it, Sara!”

To which I giggled and wheezed a faint, “OK, OK.” Cut short only by his important exception, “I don’t want to see you again unless we are meeting for coffee!”

And c’mon, what’s a girl to say to that other than, “It’s a deal!”

Now I know y’all might be giving me a little, Hey what? But trust me. After three months of anticoag for a pulmonary embolism and iron infusions for chronic anemia, this is the conversation you want to have with your hematologist.

Because it means your scans are clear, your labs are fabulous and your doc can engage in a charming little interchange that really means you can get the hoot out of his office.

Now, I promise I tried to stay away. But, ya know. I live to excel in the weird and inexplicable.

So this time it was random and impressive bruises.

No big sneeze.

But it did mean I would be disappointing my fabulous doctor, so of course, I did what any normal girl would do. I walked into the KU cancer center yesterday with a big old cup of coffee.

Not missing a beat, I set the java down, greeted the ladies at the front desk and grabbed my paperwork. Just as I settled into my chair, I was interrupted by a cheery voice calling out, “Sara?”

It was then that a darling silver-haired gentleman loudly exclaimed, “Hey, she just got here!”

So I winked in his direction, showed him the coffee and said, “If you bring coffee, you get to jump to the front of the line!”

Then we did the things. The heart rate, the blood pressure. The fist pump in celebration of normal numbers.

All leading up to the doctor’s inevitable entrance.

It had been a year since our silly little interchange but the second he saw the coffee, he started laughing in disbelief, “I cannot believe you did that! I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and this is a first!”

“Well, then it seems to me it was about time someone did!” I answered with a wee bit of sass.

We made a little more small talk, went over some more things, ordered some labs and 10 minutes later, I was on my way again. But before he left he said, “If I could frame this, I would. It’s been such a hard day.”

It wasn’t until I was driving home that I grasped something…

Here was a man who had chosen to walk into another’s suffering, who had chosen to walk into my suffering and in doing so, had chosen to bear the weight of it.

And yet, I did not hear a bitterness in his voice because his choice had not been recognized. It was instead a weariness that comes with walking in broken places. A weariness I knew I had somehow discounted in my 15 years of illness.

It was not as if I misunderstood his humanity but rather, I had missed the strength it takes to carry the weight of a patient’s hard. To multiply it by 10-20-30-40 and still wade deeply in it. To disprove any idea that the medical profession is without compassion.

A truth that had filtered through my own sweet medical community, dear people who have chosen to walk through my deepest pain, my hardest hurt.

Be it my sweet obstetrics doc who visited me in the ICU after my septic miscarriage every single day, even on his days off. Or my amazing rheumatology nurse practitioner who is a phone call away, who fights for me so I can live the best life as a mama of four. Or my physical therapist who was there by my hospital bed to hold and celebrate my rainbow baby because she knew what had come before.

It was not their job or their duty or their responsibility to wade into my messiness. It was instead, a measure of their heart.

Even when they were weary. Even when they were worn. Even when they were heartsick.They chose me. They chose my pain. They chose my broken.

They chose it over and over and over again.

Showing humility in a world altogether too full of itself. Understanding that the fear and pain of disease will sometimes jade a usually grateful heart. Waging a battle so quietly that a simple cup of coffee seems worthy of a frame.

Surely a kindness that big deserves so much more than I’ve given, more than a cup of coffee, more than idle chit chat. It deserves my heart bending low, stepping out of my pain long enough to reach and out and say…

Thank you.

To choose gratitude in the way they have chosen me — over and over and over again — until a chapter closes or my story ends.

Getty photo by manop1984

Originally published: March 4, 2018
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